Florida: The Good, the Bad and the Future

“…It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

The above is not a weather report from Stockholm, though its sure fills that role. It’s the ending of Dickens’ famous opening line of a “Tale of Two Cities.” It came to mind after returning from a recent stay in Florida.

There’s no arguing that Florida is the winter home of golf in the United States. Just getting a tee time in South Florida is a challenge, especially on the open to the public courses. This season, it seems that the Canadians have bivouacked on the golf courses there.

I spent a few days up in Orlando for the 2018 PGA Show, and show was the working word. The PGA Show makes one feel like a kid in one of the Orlando amusement parks just a few miles away.

Any item associated to golf was on display. Not just clubs, clothes, shoes and training methods but the latest in technology. You can scope for yardage, listen and talk with bone induction headphones. There were golf carts controlled by your phone via bluetooth. I picked up a gizmo that fits on your belt and through a buzz tells you when you are  aligned to the target. If that’s not enough, it doubles as a ball mark that will show the break of green with LED lights.

The amount of expenditure for this gourdful of golf must be incredible. With all this equipment on display gives one the idea that golf is a healthy and growing industry.

But just a few hours down the road, there’s a different picture to see. In the Palm Beach County. In Broward and Dade counties of Florida. The amount of golf course closures in process for 2018 is cause for serious alarm. These closures is at odds with the rosy affectation in Orlando.

In South Florida, vacant land is scarce. Add that with the national trend of failing golf courses, and you have a recipe for redevelopment.

Neighbors of South Florida golf courses  struggle to stop the housing projects in vain.

In Palm Beach, 10 golf courses at some stage of conversion to residential development.   That is out of 149 18-hole courses in the county.

According to County property appraisers,  conversions are up in southern Palm Beach county.

Broward  and Miami-Dade counties don’t have as many golf courses.  But they have their share of the same controversies.

According to  property appraiser Marty Kiar, there are about 45 golf courses in Broward. Three closed in the past five years.

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia estimates 37 golf courses in his county. The latest proposed conversion is the Calusa Golf Course property in Kendall.

Tony Palumbo is Director of Real Estate for Pulte Home Construction. He and other developer representatives face sometimes-hostile crowds. They are people airing concerns about traffic, scenic views, crime and property values.

When asked why the company is seeking to build so many homes, Palumbo’s answer drew groans: “Why not? There’s a reason it’s not operating as a golf course. It’s the cost to operate and maintain a golf course. They are shutting down everywhere.’’

A cynic might detect a hint of glee in Mr. Palumbo’s response.

What does this mean to the local golfers in these counties? Fewer places to play mean tee times become harder to find in the winter. Fewer golf courses means increased pricing for playing golf. Locals will have to put up with overcrowded winter golf. Or wait until after Easter when the tourists go back north. For some, the answer might be giving the game up.

If fewer golfers play in the summer months, some golf courses can feel the financial strain to stay open.  Waiting until the tourists come back is not a good business plan. How many golf courses could survive another year or two of that scenario is anyone’s guess.

Private clubs also feel the strain as aging membership drops and maintenance costs rise. Some do open for public play to the disgruntlement of members who pay climbing club dues.

The extravaganza that is the PGA Show in Orlando is the result of the golf booms of the 60s and 70s. How golf adapts to changing financial and cultural realities is the big question.

Will the future “golfer” be a spectator watching only a few rich people play?